The events that propel “16 Shots” took place almost five years ago, but this documentary about the killing of black teen Laquan McDonald and its aftermath has a sense of immediacy in every moment. A foreboding synth score and grim images of Chicago give Rick Rowley’s film the feeling of a thriller, and it’s a narrative so well designed that it almost feels like fiction. However, “16 Shots” is always aware of the facts it presents and their real-world impact beyond the city limits.
The documentary investigates not only the 2014 killing of 17-year-old McDonald after he was shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke, but also the response of city officials and protesters who were part of the growing conversation about police violence. Contemporary interviews and archival footage such as the dash cam video of McDonald’s death are expertly edited, offering a variety of perspectives on what happened, from the police, eyewitnesses, activists and both the prosecution and defense in the ensuing trial.
Though several key figures aren’t interviewed — including then-mayor Rahm Emanuel and Van Dyke, who was convicted of murder — “16 Shots” still endeavors to present a whole picture of McDonald’s death. The resulting film is a gripping story about a search for justice amid systemic corruption. This vital documentary recognizes that it’s an issue that extends beyond the death of one teenager, but it never loses sight of that single life lost.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Starts June 7, Laemmle Glendale, Glendale; available June 14 on Showtime